Monday, March 23, 2009


So, I was listening to Saku Koivu speak after the Maple Leaf disgrace on Saturday night. He talked about how they're fighting for a playoff place, and how they need to do the little things they're not comfortable doing and how they need to play with passion. Yeah, okay, Saku...we already know those things, and, one would assume, so do the rest of the players. The telling moment of that post-game interview was when someone asked the captain "Simple question: what's wrong with this team?" And Koivu replied, "Simple answer: I don't know." I heard Bob Gainey talk about how the team is fragile and how it crumbles as soon as it's faced with adversity. But when questioned about why that is, it sounds like Gainey doesn't know either.

So, in lieu of the actual reason for the most epic collapse of a potentially good team since last year's Ottawa Senators, we have a whole bunch of theories and dumb excuses. The newest trendy excuse is the number of free agents on the team. The theory goes that with so many unrestricted free agents, there's a lack of stability because no one knows where they'll be next year and no one wants to lay himself on the line for a team that might not want him back. What a bloody crock that is!

The truth is, Bob Gainey's right to wait on signing free agents...especially those who are entering free agency for the first time, or who will be looking for their last contracts. If Gainey had re-signed Alex Kovalev after last year's great season, or extended Mike Komisarek for five-and-a-half or six million per season as he was widely rumoured to be worth, who'd be happy about that now? Kovalev has dropped drastically in both production and general effectiveness since last year. Komisarek has looked bad all year and worse since the injury he sustained in fighting Milan Lucic. He's not hitting, his puck handling is atrocious and he's continually chasing the play instead of taking care of his man. He looks like a rookie even when he's playing with his safety net, Andrei Markov. Komisarek has said several times that he's not injured, that whatever his problem is is mental. Gainey said at the beginning of the year that new contracts would be based on how players performed this season. If the players greeted that statement with fear instead of the desire to prove themselves, it's not management that's got a problem.

I can understand how a player might get it into his head that if the team didn't offer him a new deal it must mean management doesn't value him. And with that mindset, he might start worrying about hurting himself if he pushes his physical limits. And once he starts protecting himself physically, his intensity level and production might begin to drop off. Again, I have to say that theory doesn't hold much water. Players should want to play. They know the only way to get a contract is to prove themselves, whether to the team for which they're playing this year or the team they hope will sign them next year. Either way, free agent years are audition years. Anyone who's hoping self-preservation and a drop in production will land him a good deal either with his current team or a new one has his head screwed on wrong. It might have worked for Michael Ryder last year, but it won't become the norm...especially with the salary cap about to drop. GMs will be looking for players who give it their all, no matter what.

So the UFA theory is pure crap. So is the "media" theory: specifically, that the demands of the media are too taxing and put the team under too much pressure. The media is there to tell the public about the team and the games. Reporters ask questions, then leave to go write their stories and the players leave to go do...whatever it is they do for the twenty hours a day when they're not "working." It's funny how when the team is winning, the media isn't a problem. Everyone's only too glad to talk about themselves when they're doing well. But when it's losing, all of a sudden, players want to hide and they complain about "media pressure." Yeah, okay. Pressure. More like they don't want to answer hard questions, or examine the reasons why they're stinking. When you stink, suddenly hockey in Tampa looks much more appealing, if only because nobody asks you about it after you lose.

Kirk Muller's theory is that the players are trying too hard. He says they've forgotten to have fun, and they're too stressed about losing the minute something goes wrong in a game. Maybe someone should tell the players they have ten games to go, and if they don't pick it up, they don't have to worry about hockey anymore for the next six months. If they love the game and they love what they do, they'll drop the excuses and just play. If they don't...well they'll have a good long summer to think up all the excuses and reasons for this disgrace of a season they can. But if they miss the playoffs I hope they're telling their excuses to their new teams in the fall.


NailaJ said...

I agree with Kirk. They're playing too hard. Thinking too much, instead of just doing.

It's not external pressure, or the fans or the media. It's the pressure they're putting on themselves... especially the guys in contract years.

As for Komo, I heard someone speculate that he never really got over the Lucic hit... because he's playing like someone who hasn't fully recovered from a concussion. Not quite aware enough or fast enough. Kinda lost at time because the mind/body coordination just isn't happening right.

And of course, that's just added pressure...

Kate said...

I agree, the UFA issue should be a non factor. Gimme a break, it's not like they'll end up homeless or not be able to eat. On the Komo thing, I remember back when the Lucic hit happened, McGuire was on the Team 990 and said he had been speaking to George Gilette and the Komo hit was mentioned. Gilette said something like "you have no idea what happened to Mike, it's beyond anything you can imagine". He left it at that, so I don't know what it meant. I'll give him a pass because there could be something going on there. Then there's the old "the truth will come out" by Carbo, what does that mean? Maybe that the problem wasn't coaching. And then there's the rumors, but so what even if joe blow and joe blog were up to no good it shouldn't affect the whole bloody team. I don't know what to think. the really bad streak started with rotten goaltending after the All Star game, that could play a major role. We keep going back for more because we know they can get the job done if they wanted too. We'll just have to wait and hopefully one day all will be revealed.

JF said...

The Habs' monumental collapse is to me incomprehensible. None of the reasons commonly cited - media pressure, impending free agency, Carbo's failure to communicate, Price's meltdown - account satisfactorily for the team's fragility, their lack of intensity on most nights, their atrocious defensive zone coverage. Until two games before the All-Star break, we looked like a good team, not without problems, but a team that would likely finish 4th or 5th and have a good playoff run. How did we become almost overnight such a bad team? I spend a lot of time between games brooding about it. On game days I still wake up with an absurd feeling of excitement and the groundless hope that the team will somehow turn it around and play good hockey. Night after night it doesn't happen and the players continue to mouth the same platitudes about intensity, doing the little things right, wanting it more, etc. Meanwhile the other teams in the playoff race have been playing playoff hockey for the last few weeks. Unless the players are completely indifferent, they'll find some urgency now, although it's probably already too late. What puzzles me the most is how we and the organization could have so grossly over-estimated the team at the beginning of the season as to think that we could really contend for the Cup. Even last year, the team was not as good as it looked all season, as the playoffs clearly showed. What we have this year is a mediocre team that has not played even at that level most of the time. Whatever the reasons behind the collapse, I think management, meaning mostly Gainey, has to be accountable for the team's mediocrity.

Sorry about this rant. I realize it's not exactly an answer to your post...